Hard luck hunt

Discussion in 'Long Range Hunting & Shooting' started by grit, Jan 6, 2009.

  1. grit

    grit Well-Known Member

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    All these photos of fancy shooting. Figured we needed a tale of a more usual hunt.

    Now, a week in Colorado for deer and elk. November hunt with rifles. My hunting partner had bought private land vouchers for deer. We expected snow and big rutting deer. When we picked up the vouchers we asked where we were supposed to hunt. We were in for a shock. The gentleman informed us the vouchers were to be used to purchase hard to draw fourth season deer tags. But, we were not to hunt on the property? What?

    After some cussing and some debate we decided to give things a go anyway. We picked some areas to try in a nearby wilderness area. We hunted high and hard for a couple days seeing little. We then chose an area over a 14,000 foot pass, landlocked by miles of private land. We loaded up the pack horses and headed over the mountain for the happy hunting grounds. After a rough all day pack in we arrived at the spot we'd chosen on the map. We set up camp as darkness fell.

    Morning revealed a semipermanant outfitters camp along with six hunters and thier guides a quarter mile down the trail. Two days, few elk, one huge bear, and one hasty miss later, it snowed. Twice we woke to knock the snow from the sagging tent. Morning revealed a solid foot and still coming down fast. We decided we'd better get out while we could. Several hours later we were climbing the treacherous switchback, nearing the pass.

    As I came around the next to last switchback my stomach fluttered briefly. We were on a quakie covered hillside falling steeply away for half a mile. The trail was running 200 yards between switchbacks. This two hundred yards was drifted to my horses eyeballs. The trail was gone, buried. There was no room to turn or get down. Rusty didn't hesitate. So, I let him have his head.

    Halfway across Lady hung back on the lead rope. Rusty was scrambling and needed his head to plow across. Thirty yards further I was able to pull up. Nobody was behind me. I waited for several minutes. Then Russ' packhorse came around the bulge in the mountain. As Russ' packhorse should have been last and there wasn't any way horses could pass on the trail this had to be bad.

    Catching up the packhorse I rode the last couple hundred yards to the summit and tied the horses in some trees. Hustling back down the trail I hollered for Russ several times. I could hear nothing in the howling wind. The wind was coming straight up the face and blinding me. The tracks I'd made moments before were already drifting over.

    The slide marks in the snow showed where Lady had made a misstep. Not being able to recover, she had tried for the trail just ten yards below. Wether following Lady or slipping himself, Russ' horse had gone down too. Russ had jumped clear, and there were three slide marks disapearing in the trees and blowing snow. I ran down switchback after swithback as the slide marks continued to cross the trail! At one point, Lady had slid off a rock and fallen a solid twelve feet.

    Finally, I came to Russ' horse tied to a rootball sticking from the side of a sloughed off hillside. Russ' tracks contiued out onto the hillside. At least he and his horse were ok! Following his tracks I found Russ peeling gear from Lady as quickly as he could. We got her pack off and got her back on the trail. Miraculously, she seemed unhurt.

    After loading her again we headed for the top. As we came the to switchback before the nasty section (the whole thing was nasty), I stepped up the hill and shoed her past. I wanted her to have room to scramble if she needed to. Russ did the same with his horse. Trailing the horses, we watched in horror as Lady came to the final switchback. Despite the snow nearly to her back, and the already broke trail making the corner, she walked straight out onto the steep snow covered slope. Mabey she was still shaken from her tumble, or blinded by the driving snow.

    Three steps and she knew she'd made a mistake. She tried to turn back but lost her footing. We watched helplessly as she slid and tumbled out of sight smashing trees and looking like a small avalanche. Trading Russ' horse for mine I headed down the mountain after Russ. Several switchbacks later I followed Russ' tracks out onto the mountain and cut Ladys slide mark. Russ was an hundred yards down the mountain collecting things from Ladys pack. Lady was another sixty yards lower piled up against a gnarly old dead tree. She looked like a dead elk, tangled in lash rope and manty.

    I slid and cursed my way down the mountain collecting a pannier and a bedroll. As we aproached Lady she started to struggle to stand, startling Russ and I who had thought her dead. Calming her we worked to untangle her from the lash cinch, manty and mangled pack saddle. Eventually she stood. Bloody, soggy, battered, and trembling. She seemed not to be seriously injured! We were 150 treacherous yards from the trail. It seemed an impossible distance.

    Leaving Lady, we each worked a load down to the trail. Russ headed back for the rest while I headed back to where I'd tied Rusty. We stripped Rusty's saddle and strapped the broken packsaddle to him. A long, frozen fingered half hour later Rusty was loaded. Lady was ever so gingerly working her way to us. Breathless minutes later she slowly stepped to the trail and nuzzled Rusty. What a champ!!

    Fearing broken ribs, I cinched my saddle on her loosely. We once again headed for the pass. Half an hour later we made it, lungs burning, nostrils frozen together, and icecicles hanging from our beards. The downhill side of the mountain was only half as steep. After Russ and the two packhorses broke trail Lady and I followed. Even after the passing of three horses the snow was still over my knees.

    Long cold hours later we arrived at the truck. I'd cinched up and climbed on Lady a mile back. She seemed to be doing allright. Just for fun, Russ' horse decide to buck at the last gate. As I watched him ride it out, I grinned. He'd come a long way since that first horse ride a few years back.

    I didn't take any photos on this trip. Sometimes we get too busy hunting. This photo is a deer Russ killed in a nearby area a few years earlier.
    [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: Jan 6, 2009
  2. Len Backus

    Len Backus Administrator Staff Member

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    That trip was way too much fun for me!
     

  3. Buffalobob

    Buffalobob Writers Guild

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    I hate snow.
     
  4. dogdinger

    dogdinger Writers Guild

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    aint horses a treat? they are so much fun to hunt with when things like this happen! That sure brought back memories of a few hunts i have had with horses.....it also reminded me of why i dont have any of them ornery critters anymore. I am leaning toward getting me a couple of them little horny critters though. I think a couple of pack goats would be a better deal to hunt with! AJ
     
  5. ATH

    ATH Well-Known Member

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    No offense to those who love horses, but this is why I humped myself in. My hunting buddy said "if we took horses in I'd end up shooting the horse and packing him out" and I knew what he meant.

    You love them when you have elk quarters that need to get over the mountain, but I especially love them when they're owned and used by someone else to retrieve my elk!!

    Glad everyone made it out ok, hope the horse is ok too...them can be PRICEY vet bills!
     
  6. grit

    grit Well-Known Member

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    There are few things as wonderful as a good horse. But, if they're not your thing, hiking is healthier anyway. Borium, rim shoes, or caulks probably would have prevented the falls. The fault was mine. Not that the fault matters when you punch your ticket in a horse wreck.

    For a pack animal you're not sitting on, I think llamas would be hard to beat. They can go about anywhere you can. They're supposed to be docile and intelligent. And, they can go without water for a couple days. My wife is set on trying them.

    I haven't any experince with goats. Interesting. Hard to imagine they couldn't go where you wanted. Hard to imagine they're that trainable or intelligent?? It'd be fun to try anyway.

    Almost forgot, Lady was fine. She's a superb animal.
     
  7. davewilson

    davewilson Well-Known Member

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    thanks for sharing, my favorite part was waking up and seeing another camp a few yards away. i had to apply a couple of ace bandages to my knees just to keep reading the story!
     
  8. davewilson

    davewilson Well-Known Member

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    thanks for sharing, my favorite part was waking up and seeing another camp a few yards away. i had to apply a couple of ace bandages to my knees just to keep reading the story!
     
  9. kcebcj

    kcebcj Well-Known Member

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    Boy grit! I sure can relate to that story. Everybody walked away that’s a good deal doesn’t always end up that way though. I think anyone who uses horses in the backcountry during the winter knows the danger of deep snow and ice covered trails. If they don’t they should not be there. Even with lots of saddle time there is no way to get around having a horse wreck once in awhile. Hell my horses live 4 months out of the year on snow covered mountain trails and they still have wrecks once in awhile. Them horses sure do take off when they get on their sides and it’s steep. Had a horse go down on a open slope went about 500 yards hit some timber and stopped. He was fine when I got to him and on the second try he went up through there without a problem.

    I have used Borium treated shoes and it seems to help some on the ice but overall could not see enough improvement to continue doing it. The best thing is to get horses that are born and raised in the mountains. In my opinion a valley horse will get you hurt in the mountains. Glad everything ended up good for you guys.
     
  10. grit

    grit Well-Known Member

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    "thanks for sharing, my favorite part was waking up and seeing another camp a few yards away. i had to apply a couple of ace bandages to my knees just to keep reading the story!"

    Yeah, that was my favorite part of that hunt too!

    Jim,
    You're right. We were lucky. Anybody using horses and blind to the risks is a fool. The occasional wreck is also nearly inevitable, like you say. I've never had a bad wreck. Meaning I've never had to shoot a horse or had a person seriously hurt. I suppose some folks consider broken arms serious... This wreck was pretty dramatic. Lady went an easy five hundred yards the second time. While the snow caused the wreck, it also saved her life.

    Like you said, they get on thier side and they're gone. Several years ago I had to cross a spring snowfield in a steep mountain bowl. I knew better, but I had a lot of faith in my horse. Like you say, some horses got it, some belong in the valley. I angled down the slope about 45 degrees. In the middle the snow deepened and I knew we were in trouble. Continuing, I tried to stay above Rusty and give him room to lunge. When he slipped a bit I tried to hold / help him. This only served to lay him down quicker. After about twenty yards we were really moving. Letting go I managed to scramble upright. After a couple of jumps I broke through and stuck.

    I watched in horror as Rusty slid an easy five hundred yards down the open snowfield. About then the slope flattened out for forty yards then dropped off steeply. Rusty slowed as the slope flattened and I prayed he'd stop before the edge. Just as I was starting to hope he'd stop he started struggling. His struggling increased his speed. I watched in horror as he hesitated on the lip, then plunged out of sight.

    As I ran down the slope I knew I'd killed him. Long moments later Rusty slid into view again. The drainage narrowed and Rusty slid into one side smashing his head on a boulder. After that he quit struggling. Finally sliding to a stop, he lay still another 7-800 yards below. Feeling numb I slowly worked my way to him. My hope was he was already dead and not laying there shattered. He had rolled like a barrel countless times and turned end over end a dozen times I had seen. I realized I didn't even have a gun to finish him.

    When I closed to two hundred yards he lifted his head. My stomach wrenched thinking he was laying there broken up. He started to struggle to stand and I hollered to whoa. Looking around at me he lay still. Forty pounds of snow was packed up under his saddle and he was breathing hoarsely. Yanking the cinches and breastcollar loose I tried to keep him still and fealt his legs with shaking hands. Nothing seemed broken.

    At this point the drainage had narrowed to fifteen feet. We were at a flat spot on the snow and ice. Solid ground an easy fifteen feet below. After a few minutes I coaxed Rusty to his feet and led him off the snow onto a little grassy bench. For half an hour I sat next to him while he lay in the grass, a heavy groan rumbling out now and then. Slowly his breathing evened out and the daze went out of his eyes. When he reached for a mouthful of snow, followed by the steady crunch and grind of a mouthful of grass, I fealt a real surge of hope.

    Ten minutes later he stood and started grazing. On still shaky legs I retrieved the saddle and blanket. For an hour I lay in the grass my head on the saddle. Rusty cropped grass, seeming to come to himself more and more. I thought about how to get down. There was a trail three steep slick miles below us. There was no going up. Finally, I saddled Rusty loosely and headed down. It was a grind, every inch steep and thick. Here and there, there was no avoiding crossing the deeply buried creek. Each time I prayed. Each time the snow and ice held, and Rusty made it across.

    Hours later we were on the trail and climbing a steep section. Rusty wanted to go. So, I eased the cinches tighter and cautiously climbed on. Sore, wet, and tired, we reached the truck an hour later. I was still in awe at what I'd seen. But, I was confident Rusty wasn't seriously injured.


    About the borium: First, I'm a farrier. Plain shoes are impossibly slick in snow and ice. Borium or caulks will add tremendously to the bite of each step. However, they'll still slide. Then, they'll catch all at once. Both situations are dangerous and likey to lead to injury. I like borium because it produces great traction on snow, ice, slickrock, and pavement. You can also apply as much or little as you like, adjusting the degree of bite. One reason I find it much better than caulks. Simple rim shoes provide better traction than plain.

    With a good mountain horse, like Lady. I believe the borium would have given enough extra traction to allow her to regain her footing.

    I've rambled much more than I meant to. Thanks for the reply. Always nice to talk to horse folks, especially hunters.
     
    Last edited: Jan 7, 2009